Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Welcome to 'reStore gardens'!

My speech introducing our new urban gardening initiative on World Kitchen Garden day.


Welcome to ‘reStore gardens’!

About 4 years ago, reStore was launched with the vision of creating a space for Chennaiites to understand and practise responsible living. We started with a focus on food and bringing people closer to their source of food. Over the last four years, we’ve been identified largely as a ‘organic food shop’. With this new initiative, we are here to take people much closer to the source of their food - their very homes.

We all take interest in gardening for a variety of reasons. Some of us see it as a source of fresh, pesticide-free food for our families. Some of us see it as a way to get access to inexpensive food. Some of us see it as a refreshing and creative outdoor activity, and a means of physical exercise; a way to wean ourselves away from our addiction to the various screens encroaching into our lives -the TV, computer and cellphones. Some of us who are concerned about larger environmental issues worry about food miles (the distance our food travels from their source to our kitchens). The more the food miles, the greater their contribution to fossil fuel consumption, and hence, to global warming. Some of us see gardening as an opportunity to use the compost from our compost bins. Some of us see it as educational for our children, who know so little about the plants their food comes from. Some of us who are politically bent see this as a way to take control back (away from corporations) over our seeds, food and health. Whatever may be the reasons, there is a yearning in all of us to connect back with nature. We have reached a point in our mechanical lives in concrete jungles, where we are yearning to feel the soil in our hands.

Today, many things go on in the name of ‘urban gardening’. It becomes important to clarify what we are, by telling you what we are not!
* We are not gardeners who believe in neatly swept clean and manicured gardens, where plants of the same colour and height are packed in rows. We believe in wild gardens with mixed crops, with leaf litter covering and bugs crawling over the soil. We believe in nature’s way of gardening. 
* We are not experts with all the answers to your questions. We are a bunch of curious learners and experimenters, who are keen to share their experience and knowledge.
* We are not an agency to set up and maintain your gardens for you. We’re here to inspire people to get their hands dirty and work together.
* We don’t offer any standardised solutions. We welcome and encourage diversity of ideas and approaches.
* We don’t advocate methods and inputs that manipulate nature for short-term gains. We believe in working with nature, for instance promoting open-pollinated seeds, organic farming, etc.
* We don’t advocate centralisation of food production and knowledge. We believe that knowledge about food growing should rest with the common people. We will take an open stand against corporatisation of seeds and food.
* We are not here to sell anything. We believe in sharing freely (other than times when we need to request payment to cover our costs or support livelihoods of the poor).
* Finally, we are not an exclusive club of gardeners growing food just for our families. While that is of course important, we want to take it beyond rooftops and balconies into public lands and grow a movement.
The last point is what excites most of us volunteers anchoring this movement. COMMUNITY GARDENING. This is simply people coming together to garden in community spaces.

Indian Tradition of Growing and Sharing food
Our ancient religious and philosophical texts talk a lot about food. Taitriyopanishad says Annam Bahu Kurvita(Grow and Share Food in Plenty). This is also the title of a book by Centre for Policy Studies which breaks the popularly-held myth that ancient agriculture in India was backward, produced very little and hence, people starved. Food availability was considered the primary condition of civilisation. Food sharing was considered the highest dharma. It was considered a sin to eat alone without sharing.

moghamanna vindate apracet
satya bravmi vadha itsa tasya
nryamaa puyati no sakhya
kevalgho bhavati kevaldi

(Food that comes to the one who does not give is indeed a waste. This is the truth. I, the rishi, say it. …....... He becomes the partaker of sin alone.)

We still commonly hear people say “If I eat alone without sharing my food with you, I will get a stomach ache. So, please take some food.” There is a deeper truth to it. Our modern society is sick in many ways. Probably one of the reasons for it sickness is that we as a society has made healthy food inaccessible to the poor. The urban poor, who cook our food, tend to our gardens, keep our homes clean and make all the things that the middle and upper class society enjoys, suffers from appallingly low levels of nutrition. Probably, the way to healing our society's sickness lies in freeing food from the market. Bring food down from supermarket shelves to community gardens.

In this, we take inspiration from groups across India and the world. Urban Leaves is a group in Mumbai which brings people together in city parks to grow food together. Cuba is an excellent example of the power of community in increasing organic food production in urban spaces and realising food security.

When we volunteers came together and discussed this idea, the question about ‘What if people steal the food we grow?’ came up. And we unanimously agreed that that should be welcomed. People steal food because they don’t have access to it. And that we should share our harvests to the low income communities living around our community gardens. Yes, we dream of gardens where people will be free to pick what they want.

If you think ‘free food for all’ sounds too far-fetched, look at this! In England, two people dreamt of exactly this and created a movement called 'Incredble Edible' to grow food and herb gardens on every possible public space including sidewalks, parking lots and police stations. Today, the movement has spread to 35 towns and there are boards hung over these gardens that say ‘Grow your own! or Share this stuff. Please pick what you need!’ In our lives which are filled with transactions ‘I give this and I get that’, here is a way to give without expectations. So, please come forward to give your time, labour, resources, land to realising this collective dream.

We don’t have a plan or blueprint. But we invite you to join us in reimagining how we relate to our own time and labour, to the spaces and the communities around us, and to life itself. So, we can imagine and build a different society.


Preeti Patil said...


You made me proud! So well written and conveyed. All our best wishes for your ventures... we dream together!


Sangeetha Sriram said...

Thank you Preeti! :)

Priya Desikan said...

Wonderful talk Sangeetha! I missed it....but hope to do my bit somehow.....I love the concept and the dream....

Venky said...

Excellent initiative. Beautifully put. I look forward to playing my bit in this. I can help you in managing social media activities to help build awareness and foster building community. Let me know.

Sangeetha Sriram said...

Sure Venkataraman and Priya. Will keep you in the loop. :)

ushasoman said...

hi Sangeeta
I retired recently and have started a kitchen garden would like to participate in this movement.I was wondering if you had tips on composting with or without compost worms